Ghosts in the machine

Remote Dancing at the Royal Festival Hall allows you to dance with a virtual partner
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

There's no need to break the ice with a new dancing partner when you can use a virtual partner instead. "You get the chance to look at your virtual dancing partner in a way you would never do normally, unless you knew them very well," claims Remote Dancing's choreographer, Rosemary Lee. "You can do this in a corridor where nobody is watching you. Obviously, they are a virtual being, but there is something about this connection that is very special."

There's no need to break the ice with a new dancing partner when you can use a virtual partner instead. "You get the chance to look at your virtual dancing partner in a way you would never do normally, unless you knew them very well," claims Remote Dancing's choreographer, Rosemary Lee. "You can do this in a corridor where nobody is watching you. Obviously, they are a virtual being, but there is something about this connection that is very special."

Remote Dancing is an interactive video installation created by Lee and the digital artist Nic Sandiland. Travelling through three long, white corridors now in the RFH ballroom - "the carcass that holds the experience" - you encounter a variety of virtual dancing partners. And you can dance with them. "It is a different experience because you are not removed from the performance," says Lee, "but participating in it."

As you begin to move, so the virtual dancer moves back and forth, and a duet begins. "It's terribly intimate," says Lee excitedly. "There are endless possibilities with your on-screen partner. You can slow down the dance, make it faster, make your partner come toward you or move away."

Each dance, which lasts five to eight minutes, is set to an atmospheric soundtrack by the composer Graham Miller, and mixed with ghostly voices of the on-screen performers. The dance begins in blackness; then you are transported, with your virtual partner, into a landscape of marshland, reed beds and estuaries, filmed around the East Anglian coastline. "The openness of the landscape makes the figures seem quite small and alone," says Lee. "It can give you a perspective of your place in the bigger picture of the world."

Lee's choreography explores the relationship between a character and their surroundings, and she draws her audience intimately into a performance. Haughmond Dances (1990) involved a cast of 237 local people in a ruined abbey outside Shrewsbury. That was followed by Ascending Fields (1992), which she directed and produced with a team of artists in the Fort Dunlop tyre depot. Her last major live work - Passage (2001) was an evening of live dance and film on the South Bank, with huge screens at the back and 13 dancers aged from nine to 75, "revealing their relationship to each other and their surroundings".

Along with Remote Dancing, there will be another installation, Stereo Dances, in the centre of the ballroom floor. "Here you take the headphones from their stands and listen to the instructions to create an instant dance with a partner," says Lee, who has concocted four dance routines - folk, formal, meditative and "super playful". There will also be a series of short dance films to watch including Exosphere, where a dancer sets off a helium balloon with a tiny camera attached.

'Remote Dancing', RFH Ballroom, London SE1 (020-7921 0600; www.rfh.org.uk) 31 July to 26 August

Comments